Sunday, August 5, 2012

Notes for July 2012

Callie's new Soft Ride orthopaedic boots have arrived.  She's been some lame to plumb lame off and on for several months.  Our vet prescribed them and told us that her soles seem to be thin and that the problem is made worse by stomping flies and by her confirmation.  She is very deep chested and carries more weight on her front hooves than most horses.

Callie is not a difficult horse except when you ask her to actually do something, so she stepped into her new boots as though they were a pair of well-worn house shoes.  She made us laugh when she high-stepped across the pasture the first time but soon reverted to her normal foot dragging, stumbling gait, the one we know and love.

Stormy is on the verge of spinning and is learning more ranch horse moves.  Until she spins, my favorite will be the transition from a walk to a canter.  On her first try she took two steps before she cantered, and on the second try, well, I am predjudiced, but she was perfect.  She is a muscular little horse with a daisy-clipping gate, and when her mane flies and her flag is up her movement is almost breath-taking.

We sometimes call Stormy "Lefty," because when she is impatient (which is most of the time) she paws the ground with her left front hoof.  Here is a picture taken last fall when we appeared with Rick Lamb, host of The Horse Show, and Judy Reynolds, Phd. a nutritionist with ADM.  She's upset because we are standing around and there are cattle in the pastures behind the trees.  This segment appeared in June 2012 and will repeat in September.

We didn't sell tickets, but we used Stormy for pony rides in the heat of early July.  It was more than 95 degrees when my granddaughters, their mother, aunt and her four children came to our place for a "horse experience."  For more than two hours we rode Stormy, who weighs no more than 950 pounds, double, longed her with little kids aboard and led her with even smaller kids on her back.  She did it all without a complaint.  Her reward: lots of carrots, serious petting from the little ones and a shower from the garden hose, which she loves.  Callie watched it all with satisfaction from her stall while little hands and sticky fingers fed her carrots.  It's a hard life, Callie.

Here are my nine year old granddaughter, Annika, and her aunt riding Stormy.  That's me in my rag-pickers ensemble looking hot and tired.

I may be odd, but there is a peculiar, almost haunting beauty to a draught.  The air has a breathless, brittle quality like a bitter winter day.  There must be a name for the hard-edged cloudless blue sky, but if there is, I don't know it.  The grass, dry and sere, crackles under your feet like small gravel. The leaves yellowing in the heat flutter tiredly in a heat-driven breeze.  Our three Redtail Hawks scree as if they are calling out to their prey.  A new hatch of dragonfllies search for mosquitos on lacey, golden wings darting here and there in their primative way.  And fluttering butterflies stop for a moment, hoping to satisfy their need from withering purple and yellow flowers.  Our honey bees work the last clover blooms of summer. Callie munches absently on the leaves of a tree limb, broken and dangling after a thunderstorm.

Yes, it's dry and hot, oppressively muggy at times, and all the while I think how beautiful it is and how lucky I am to be part of it.


Copyright, August 5, 2012
All photographs by Carol A. Lang

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Yesterday and Today

On this long ago Fourth of July the United States was a nation of farms, small towns, quiet crossroads, and main streets where businesses, and often people, succeeded or failed on their merits.  There were no bail outs and no social safety nets to fall back upon.

It was a time of high-button shoes, mutton-chop sleeves and dresses that reached nearly to the floor.  Only little girls could wear heat defying short dresses with long stockings.  Men suffered celluloid collars, ties, coats and fedoras even on the hottest days.  Little boys still did mischief and took a lickin' for it, went skinny dippin' and then chased after flag festooned wagons on sweltering July afternoons.

Often the only sounds to be heard were those of birds calling, or hoof beats on hard packed dirt roads, swearing teamsters on cobblestone streets, or the laughter of kids being kids.  So long as you weren't walking behind the plow you might hear music in the jingling brass harness fittings that the horses wore.  The soot streaked, thumping engines of industry were still married to the narrow streets of big cities.

We sometimes stare into space and dreamily imagine ourselves in those romantic days.  We see ourselves at church picnics and ice cream socials, barn dances or drinking sarsaparilla at the corner drugstore, and courting our best girl on a garden swing.

But life was hard, sometimes brutally hard, marked by large families, long days and short lives.  Medicine was "by guess and by golly" and women's sufferage and liberation were far in the future.  But for America, The United States of America, the future was at hand.  It was the time of American possibility and, like Carl Sandburg's "Chicago," we were a nation of the "Big Shoulders."

For the horses, every day was pretty much the same: too much work, too little rest and for most, a life which ended when their usefulness was done.  In large cities horses died in their traces and their bodies were left to rot in the streets.  They were a means to an end, as many chests and broad backs scarred by the whip or harness would attest.  Horses were truly beasts of burden, engines of both commerce and war, as well as the primary means of transportation.  So many horses died during the First World War that many in Europe thought the horse might become extinct.  We know that all of this is true because history tells us so, but I have many photographs in my collection that prove the love and affection people had for their horses, no matter how they were used.  In the golden age of the stern visage, some women allowed a warm, almost maternal smile while standing near or touching the taught, warm skin of their valued co-workers and friends, the horses.

No one knows who the Leasure Brothers were or where they called home, but the photograph shown below from the 1890's assures us that they lived, and were patriotic.
"Our Prices Tell," the little sign in the wagon's middle reads.  What their prices said, we're not sure!

The horse's coats and harness shine and let us know that even in the Gay 90's, image was important.  Their ears tell us that the band in the wagon behind them must be playing a tune.  The conductor sits next to the driver and wears a white pith helmet and what can only be described as a garish suit of white squares on what seem to be trousers striped like the American flag.  We can see a fiddler and a double bass player on board as well, and I suspect the little boys following the wagon might be picking up pieces of candy thrown by the man standing in the rear.

Further to the right, a man in a straw boater and his daughter in a knee length dress and wide brimmed straw hat stand near a group of gossiping ladies in their long dresses.
He seems bemused at best and distracted at worst.  Perhaps his thoughts lean more toward a cool beer, clicking billiard balls, and the blue smoke of a dollar cigar.  We can never know.

Left of the horses is a man is forever caught in mid-step, his collar stud is fastened and his rolled brim slouch hat is pulled low over his eyes.  He is a working man, a man that on this bright, warm day also wears a coat.  To his right a man sits in the shade of his buggies convertible top, his horse is resting, and while its ears are alert, its head is held low.

On the farm the nation's birth was celebrated as well, but with a little less fanfare.  An older, Roman nosed plow horse does its patriotic double duty as a saddle horse and photo prop for two laughing children from a different time.  While it was unusual for adults to smile in pictures these two barefoot kids rejoiced in the moment and waved the flag.  The were the hope of the American Century, our century.

Much has changed since these photographs were taken: we live longer and in an urban society, and medicine, communication and transportation are far better.  Still, we are not the young, cock-sure, vibrant America of our past.  Too oftern we wait for the government to do for us what we can and should do for ourselves.  The curves in a country road make the journey interesting, yet in our zeal to be protected form every danger, we demand that the road be straightened and the adventure siphoned away like old oil.

Our country has more than its share of problems to be sure, but we still have the "Big Shoulders" and we should remember that.  This is still the greatest country on earth, and today, we celebrate her birth.

Happy Birthday, America.

Copyright, July 3, 2012
All photos from the author's collection

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Had I been a baseball....

In a moment I went from standing at Callie's shoulder, putting fly spray on her face, to lying face down in the mud wondering if the next thing I would feel might be her crushing weight on top of me, or my being cut to shreds by her flailing hooves, or worse, a fatal blow to the back of my head as she struggled to stay on her feet.  All of those thoughts raced through my mind while I heard her hooves make dull, thudding noises in the mud around me, and then there was silence.  One of Callie's hooves had pinned the right leg of my shorts to the ground, her hoof coming down between my splayed legs.  I remember the silence that followed, and I always will.

When I got to my feet, Callie stood there looking at me with what I thought was both sorrow and fear in her eyes.  A quick check told me that I was ok, but I was covered in mud and nursing what was more than likely a bruised or jammed left shoulder.  The mud on my right calf told me all I needed to know about how close I had been to being seriously hurt.  I cradled Callie's head in my arms and tried to console her, telling her over and over that, "It's ok, girl, you didn't do anything wrong, I'm fine."

Over the past year or so the bond between Callie and I has grown, and my horse, Stormy, a dominant mare, has let it be known with pinned ears, flashing teeth, and the occasional threat to kick, that she is not pleased.

Callie's height partially blocked my view of Stormy as she approached, her head slightly lowered and her fly mask hiding her expression and her intent.  To be honest, I didn't give her a thought.  I've always been able to defuse Stormy's black moods with a word or hug, so I didn't pay much attention to her approach or her body language.  Stormy must have nipped Callie, who's first reaction was to flee.  She wasn't using the thinking side of her brain when she flattened me, she just wanted to get out of there.

Had I been a baseball, I would have been a line drive to left field, for sure a single and more likely a double to the wall.  There's little good to be said about over confidence, especially when dealing with thousand pound animals.  We forget that they have an emotional life just as we do and that that emotional being can quickly change from a friendly, loving companion to a jealous, aggressive beast.  Complacency and confidence can kill you.  How well I know.

(This happened on Sunday, June 3, 2012)


Copyright June 5, 2012

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Change Is Gonna Come

The first hint of change came in mid-January, when the earth and sky wore the same grey cloak, and a strong north wind drove a light freezing rain across our pasture.  Our horses, Stormy (Stormy Monday) and Callie (Calliope) had grown tired of the rain and mud and hurried to their stalls as I walked across the pasture to meet them.

My horse, Stormy, a black and white paint, was covered with mud from nose to tail.  I went to work with a curry comb and a stiff brush while she munched on the flake of hay I had given her.  Nearly finished, I reached across her back to erase a spot of mud I'd missed and stepped back to admire my work.  I looked down and saw that my black barn coat was covered in white hair.  "She's shedding!" I said.  "That's why she's rolling so much."

Callie, born in Fisher Branch, Manitoba, has a winter coat that stands straight up and makes her look like a fuzzy, plush toy, while Stormy's coat lays flat against her body.  Callie's dark bay coat was just as muddy as Stormy's, but her clock was ticking more slowly; it would be two more weeks before she would begin to shed.

Now, in the first days of April when Spring has finally arrived, there are four or five clots of Stormy's white hair dotting the pasture.  Callie's shedding just as much, but her coat's color matches the pasture's bare spots and is not so noticeable.

I am always surprised by the subtle signs of things to come that our horses give us, and how we seldom notice them or their meaning.

In his poem, "Fog," the poet Carl Sandburg wrote, "The fog comes on little cat feet," and in this year, so did spring.


Copyright, April 10, 2012

Monday, April 2, 2012

My Friend Fox

This is no way to begin a new blog, but I have to.  My cat and friend, Fox, passed away during the early morning hours of Sunday, April the first.  Fox was probably dumped nearby and appeared on our (my wife, Carol, grieves for him in her own quiet way) farmhouse porch and for the next eight years never left our home; he was no more than ten years old.

There are no words to express my sadness, just as there are no words to describe his sweet disposition, the fox-like ruff around his face; his expressive eyes; long-buff tipped coat, or his sensuous, fluffy, question mark tail.  He would be plenty po'd if I didn't tell you what a great hunter he was, or how he delighted in walking in the front door only to ask us to let him out the back door - now!

His was a remarkable and not regrettable life and I hope someone will say the same thing about me when my time comes to pass from this life. He was blessed with both the freedom to be Fox and the security of our home. He was a faithful friend.

I have not lost my friend, he has simply found his way back home.


Copyright April 2, 2012